The widow of PSNI officer Stephen Carroll said she had nothing but sympathy for her husband’s colleague who falsified documents while suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the murder.
John Gillespie was given a 12-month conditional discharge at Newry Crown Court on Monday after pleading guilty to a misconduct charge during an unrelated road traffic accident.
The 33-year-old, who has since left the force and moved to Australia, was the first officer on the scene after Constable Carroll was killed on March 9, 2006.
The court heard how Gillespie attended to the 48-year-old policeman as he lay dying, with the victim’s blood on his uniform, after he was shot by a Continuity IRA gunman in Craigavon.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Kate Carroll said she understood - but didn’t condone - his actions.
“What kind of sight did he have to encounter after Steve was shot in the head?” she asked.
“To see the life draining out of a friend or colleague must be horrific.
“I have sympathy for him, just as I would have sympathy for anyone in that position.
“I’m not condoning what he did, but there were extenuating circumstances.”
A consultant psychologist report said that Gillespie had not slept a night for three years because of the traumatic effects of the shooting.
Mrs Carroll (65) said she remembered a “very distraught” Gillespie giving evidence in court.
Two men later received life sentences for the murder of Const Carroll - the first PSNI officer to be killed by terrorists.
“I would not like to have been there when Steve was shot in the head; it was bound to be traumatic,” the grandmother said.
“For me it’s hell knowing that Steve’s head was shattered - at least I didn’t see it. If I had been there and saw Steve in the state that he saw him in I would have been devastated.
“You can’t see something like that happen and expect it to go away overnight.”
She added: “I can imagine him cradling Steve in his arms as he was dying. They were colleagues, members of a little family.”
The details of the misconduct charge were described as Gillespie faking two interviews and documents as the investigating officer of a three-vehicle road crash, involving no serious injuries, on April 3, 2010.
The court heard that Gillespie suffered from survivor’s guilt as the second officer to reply to a radio 999 call on March 9, 2009, the first being Mr Carroll.
Gillespie’s defence barrister also said that he had “struggled on with his work” and “does not remember doing any of these things”.
Mrs Carroll said it would be hard for anyone to comes to terms with what Gillespie experienced.
“You can never, ever get over something like that,” she said.
“People handle grief in different ways. I can sympathise and empathise with this man.
“Everybody assumes that because you’re in the police that you don’t have a heart or that you’re immune to everything around you, but it’s not so.”
Judge Kevin Finnegan told Gillespie he had had to “experience the death of a colleague in the most horrendous of circumstances” in which he had “acted bravely”.
Giving him a conditional discharge, the judge added: “Life has not been particularly kind to you up-to-date. I think you deserve as fresh a start as I can give.”
Mrs Carroll said that while Gillespie wasn’t “above the law”, he did deserve to get on with his life. “If I had seen Steve just after he’d been shot I’m not sure I would be coping as well as I am today,” she said.
“When I saw him, he had been cleaned up and he just looked like a paler, ghostly version of himself - and that image will stay with me forever.
“I can sympathise and empathise with what his colleague did because mentally he was all over the place after what happened. He deserves to be able to build a new life.”